Macedonia: Opposition leader withdraws from crisis talks

AP News
Posted: Jun 05, 2015 12:36 PM
Macedonia: Opposition leader withdraws from crisis talks

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia's main opposition leader withdrew Friday from talks to resolve a deep political crisis stemming from a wiretap scandal that has roiled the country for months, throwing into question a tentative agreement to hold early general elections by the end of April next year.

Zoran Zaev told reporters in the capital Skopje that he had decided not to participate in the next round of talks with Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski in Brussels. He accused European Union Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn, who has brokered the talks, of being biased for describing last year's general election as "positive."

Zaev disputes the result of the election, claiming it was marred by fraud. He has been boycotting parliament for almost a year and demands Gruevski resign.

Macedonia's feuding political leaders agreed earlier this week to hold elections by the end of April 2016 in a bid to resolve the crisis. Hahn had said the final agreement was to be worked out at next week's meeting in Brussels.

At the heart of the Macedonia's crisis is a cache of wiretapped conversations Zaev has been releasing gradually since January that purportedly reveal corruption at the highest levels of government. He claims Gruevski, who has been in power since 2006, is behind the mass wiretapping of more than 20,000 people, including politicians, police, journalists, judges and others.

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Gruevski vehemently rejects the accusations and accuses Zaev of participating in a plot to overthrow his government.

The situation was exacerbated by a shootout between police and ethnic Albanian gunmen last month in the town of Kumanovo, near the border with Kosovo, which left 18 dead.

Zaev has been formally charged along with four others with "violence against the representatives of the highest state institutions" in connection with the wiretap scandal.

Two senior government officials at the heart of the allegations and the country's intelligence chief resigned last month in a bid to defuse tensions.